Sunday, February 07, 2021

Book Review: Jesus and John Wayne

A book that's been given a little play right now is Jesus and John Wayne, by Kristin Kobes du Mez. My goal is to read a chapter a week, but life is very crowded.

I did manage to read the Introduction this past week. Here are some statements I found interesting:

  • The intro begins and ends with mention of Robert Jeffress, a significant Southern Baptist that John Fea calls a "court evangelical." Explaining in 2016 why so many evangelicals voted for Trump, he said evangelicals were "sick and tired of the status quo" (1). The intro ends with a quote from Jeffress before the 2016 election: "I want the meanest, toughest, son-of-a-you-know-what I can find in that role, and I think that's where many evangelicals are" (14).
  • Kristin notes the puzzle that such strong support for Trump presents on its face: Trump "mocked opponents, incited violence at his rallies, and boasted of his 'manhood' on national television. Then there were Trump's sexual indiscretions. Divorce was one thing, rumors of sexual escapades another... the release of the Access Hollywood tape."
  • Various explanations were given: some holding their noses, some choosing the better of two evils, some being transactional to get judges...
  • Her claim: "Evangelical support for Trump was no aberration, nor was it merely a pragmatic choice. It was, rather, the culmination of evangelicals' embrace of militant masculinity, an ideology that enshrines patriarchal authority and condones the callous display of power, at home and abroad" (3). 
  • They "replaced the Jesus of the Gospels with a vengeful warrior Christ." "Evangelicals did not cast their vote despite their beliefs, but because of them."
I have marveled these last four years that, if cultural evangelicals had wanted a true believer, they should have been happier to have Pence as president than Trump. But no. They preferred Trump. The impeachment would have been a great opportunity to get a "real" evangelical as president, one that would have given judges and the same opposition to abortion. Nope. They wanted the strong man.

  • "When it comes to delineating the contours of modern American evangelicalism, the primary of these four [Bebbington] distinctives is arguable" (5). The four are biblicism, conversionism, activism, and the crucicentrism. She's quite right here. I find this way of identifying evangelicalism rather inadequate.
  • Rather, "what it means to be an evangelical has always depended on the world beyond the faith." Indeed, there is a prioritization and interpretation of these elements at various times and places.
  • In the last couple years, "many people count themselves 'evangelical' because they watch Fox News, consider themselves religious, and vote Republican" (6).
  • Because the application of the four elements often differs between white and black Christians, "just 25 percent of African Americans who subscribe to all four distinctives identify as evangelical." There is thus a prevailing whiteness to American evangelicalism. I've seen this recently in criticism of Lecrae for endorsing Democrats in Georgia. He can believe in the Bible, in conversion, in the cross, and is clearly acting out his faith in the public sphere, but because he plays it out differently, he is canceled.
  • Kobes du Mez rightly sees that culture has forged the identity of current American evangelicalism. Pastors have often been powerless against the force of everything from Dobson to Veggie Tales. Mainline denominations like the United Methodist or Christian Reformed churches are now full of fundamentalists despite the training of their ministers. LifeWay Christian stores turn authors on and off at will.
  • "Denominational boundaries are easily breached by the flow of religious merchandising" (8).
  • "Rather than seeking to distinguish 'real' from 'supposed' evangelicals, then, it is more useful to think in terms of the degree to which individuals participate in this evangelical culture of consumption."
  • "Today, what it means to be a 'conservative evangelical' is as much about culture as it is about theology" (10).
  • "Like [John] Wayne, the heroes who best embodied militant Christian masculinity were those unencumbered by traditional Christianity" (11).
She ends the introduction:

  • "Contemporary white evangelicalism is America, then, is not the inevitable outworking of biblical literalism... it is, rather, a historical and cultural movement, forged over time by individuals and organizations with varied motivations" (14).

1 comment:

John Mark said...

Alan Jacobs references Karl Barth, who believed that German theologians and pastors had domesticated God, Then they gave their allegiance to a "strong god"--the demanding god of nationalism. This is on his current newsletter which I think went up today. John Mark.